This month, to celebrate the Internet’s unbridled love for wallowing in nostalgia and even greater relishing of talking about why certain cultural artifacts are horrible, Sound of the City presents First Worsts, a series in which our writers remember the first time… they ever hated a song enough to call it The Worst. (And to be fair, we’re also going to see how these songs have stood the test of time.)
THE SONG: Bryan Adams, “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You.”
THE YEAR: 1991.
THE REASONS: Being extremely lovey-dovey, cracking my cool exterior.
If there was one thing I loved as a child, it was movies with swashbuckling. The swords could have been wielded by Errol Flynn or Dolph Lundgren (remember the giant space sword he had when he played He-Man?)—even Star Wars is, in its way, a movie about swordfighting. (Laser swordfighting.) In 1991, the epic, awesome movie about swords and arrows and castles Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves came out, and I loved it. Which meant that I heard its love theme, Bryan Adams’ “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You,” many, many times.
Bryan Adams, “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You”
If I’m being honest, the worst offense of “(Everything I Do)” is that it’s kind of good. Adams’ voice is gravelly in a fun “overcome with emotion” kind of way. It has a big guitar solo in the middle. In the video, Adams strolls through the woods, hangs out in Robin Hood’s camp in Sherwood Forest, and sings in front of a waterfall, surrounded by fog. Clips from the movie of flaming arrows and swords are spliced in—making it about as metal as a video for acid-washed-jean balladry can get.
So, OK, I loved it. But at the same time, even though I was only eight, I knew it was crap. My older brother was in punk bands—I’d watched him play keytar in our garage wearing a skinny tie while knowing, deep in my heart, that nothing could possibly be cooler. I spent my childhood thumbing over his band’s cassette, which had a Xeroxed cover that showed a hamster being strangled. I only listened to it once, and it scared the hell out of me.
What was I to do about this whole Bryan Adams thing? Overcompensate. I hated that song as much as an eight-year-old without anyone with whom to discuss pop music could, which is to say quietly but very deeply and truly. It ruined my swords and arrows movie, and it exposed my secret love of crap.
In the summer of 1991, my family spent the summer of 1991 on its longest family vacation ever. We wound from Florida, up through to Pennsylvania, then into New York City and upstate New York, before finally arriving Montreal, where my sister famously looked out a window at a French street sign and excitedly said it was “just like being in another country!” I’m not quite 30 and probably too young to talk about how things were “in my day,” but in terms of in-car entertainment 1991 was certainly another era. There were no iPods or iPads, no cell phones, no in-car DVDs—not even a CD player. For entertainment, there were two basic options. One of them was listen to my mother and sister taking turns reading to me from Mrs. Piggle Wiggle and Anne of Green Gables paperbacks that we’d had for a few decades longer than I’d been alive. The other was the radio, and every few hours, we would hit a new station. “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You” was the top song on the year-end Billboard Hot 100, which meant that the trip went from being a simple family vacation to being an endless battery of four-minute-plus tests of my resolve to be cool.
I did not do well. I could not deny myself. I came home from that trip deliriously in love with love, with schmaltz, with power ballads. I used to tell my friends at recess how much I had hated and then loved that song; these conversations are the first time I remember someone telling me, “Yeah, I’ve heard that story before, Chris.” When I called my mother to research this piece, and I told her what song I’d be writing about, the first thing she said was, “Oh, I remember how much you loved that song!”
SO HOW IS IT NOW?
I have listened to “(Everything I Do)” many more times than was strictly necessary while writing this piece, and I sang it in line at the grocery store so loudly that the guy behind me in line interrupted me to tell me I was doing a good job. My mother’s memories, as it turns out, were not wrong, nor are they out of date.